Renowned for his satirical works, Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, 1622–1673) delighted in lampooning the social pretensions and conceits of 17th-century French society. In this 1664 verse comedy with serious overtones, Tartuffe, a penniless scoundrel and religious poseur, is invited by a gullible benefactor to live in his home.
Imposing a rigidly puritanical regimen on the formerly happy household, Tartuffe wreaks havoc among family members. He breaks off the daughter's engagement, attempts to seduce the wife of his host, acquires his patron's property, and eventually resorts to blackmail and extortion. But ultimately, his schemes and malicious deeds lead to his own downfall.
Attacked by the Church and twice suppressed, Tartuffe opened to packed houses in 1669. Teeming with lively humor and satirical plot devices, this timeless comedy by one of France's greatest and most influential playwrights is essential reading for students of theater and literature.
About the Author
Molière (1622-73) is known as the greatest French writer of comedy. His plays include The Misanthrope, Tartuffe, and The School for Wives, all available in an omnibus edition from Methuen Drama.
Award-winning poet, playwright and children's author Roger McGough made his name as one of the 'Liverpool Poets' with Adrian Henri and Brian Patten. His most recent book of poetry is Everyday Eclipses (2002) and his Collected Poems was published in 2003. He is a National Curriculum recommended poet for secondary English.
Read an Excerpt
By Molière, John Berseth
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2000 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
MADAME PERNELLE, ELMIRE, MARIANE, DAMIS, CLÉANTE, DORINE, FLIPOTE.
MME. PERNELLE. Come Flipote, let's be gone, that I may get rid of them.
ELMIRE. You walk so fast that one has much ado to follow you.
MME. PERNELLE. Stay, daughter, stay; come no farther; this is all needless ceremony.
ELMIRE. We only acquit ourselves of our duty to you; but pray, mother, what makes you in such haste to leave us?
MME. PERNELLE. Because I can't endure to see such management, and nobody takes any care to please me. I leave your house, I tell you, very ill edified; my instructions are all contradicted. You show no respect for anything amongst you, every one talks aloud there, and the house is a perfect Dover Court.
MME. PERNELLE. You are, sweetheart, a noisy and impertinent Abigail, and mighty free of your advice on all occasions.
MME. PERNELLE. In short, you are a fool, child; 'tis I tell you so, who am your grandmother; and I have told my son your father, a hundred times, that you would become a perfect rake and would be nothing but a plague to him.
MARIANE. I fancy—
MME. PERNELLE. Good-lack, sister of his, you act the prude, and look as if butter would not melt in your mouth; but still waters, they say, are always deepest, and under your sly airs you carry on a trade I don't at all approve of.
ELMIRE. But mother—
MME. PERNELLE. By your leave, daughter, your conduct is absolutely wrong in everything; you ought to set them a good example, and their late mother managed 'em much better. You are a sorry economist, and what I can't endure, dress like any princess. She who desires only to please her husband, daughter, needs not so much finery.
CLÉANTE. But madame, after all—
MME. PERNELLE. As for you, sir, her brother, I esteem you very much, I love and respect you; but yet, were I in my son's her husband's place, I should earnestly entreat you not to come within our doors. You are always laying down rules of life that good people should never follow. I talk a little freely to you, but 'tis my humour; I never chew upon what I have at heart.
DAMIS. Your Monsieur Tartuffe is a blessed soul, no doubt—
MME. PERNELLE. He's a good man, and should be listened to; I can't bear, with patience, to hear him cavilled at by such a fool as you.
DAMIS. What! shall I suffer a censorious bigot to usurp an absolute authority in the family? And shall not we take the least diversion, if this precious spark thinks not fit to allow of it?
DORINE. If one were to hearken to him, and give in to his maxims, we could do nothing but what would be made a crime of; for the critical zealot controls everything.
MME. PERNELLE. And whatever he controls is well controlled. He would fain show you the way to Heaven; and my son ought to make you all love him.
DAMIS. No, look you, madame, neither father nor anything else can oblige me to have any regard for him. I should belie my heart to tell you otherwise. To me his actions are perfectly odious; and I foresee that, one time or other, matters will come to extremity between that wretch and me.
DORINE. 'Tis downright scandalous to see an upstart take on him at that rate here. A vagabond that had not a pair of shoes to his feet when he came hither, and all the clothes on his back would not fetch sixpence, that he should so far forget himself as to contradict everything and to play the master.
MME. PERNELLE. Mercy on me! Matters would go much better, were everything managed by his pious directions.
DORINE. He passes for a saint in your imagination; but, believe me, all he does is nothing but hypocrisy.
MME. PERNELLE. What a tongue!
DORINE. I would not trust him without good security, any more than I would his man Laurence.
MME. PERNELLE. What the servant may be at bottom, I can't tell; but I'll answer for the master that he is a good man; you wish him ill, and reject him, only because he tells you the naked truth. 'Tis sin that his heart can't brook, and the interest of Heaven is his only motive.
DORINE. Ay; but why, for some time past, can't he endure that anybody should come near us? How can a civil visit offend Heaven, so much that we must have a din about it, enough to stun one? Among friends, shall I give you my opinion of the matter? [Pointing to ELMIRE] I take him, in troth, to be jealous of my lady.
MME. PERNELLE. Hold your peace, and consider what you say. He is not the only person who condemns these visits. The bustle that attends the people you keep company with, these coaches continually planted at the gate, and the noisy company of such a parcel of footmen disturb the whole neighbourhood. I am willing to believe there's no harm done; but then it gives people occasion to talk, and that is not well.
CLÉANTE. Alas, madame, will you hinder people from prating? It would be a very hard thing in life, if for any foolish stories that might be raised about people, they should be forced to renounce their best friends; and suppose we should resolve to do so, do you think it would keep all the world from talking? There's no guarding against calumny. Let us therefore not mind silly tittle-tattle, and let's endeavour to live innocently ourselves, and leave the gossiping part of mankind to say what they please.
DORINE. May not neighbour Daphne and her little spouse be the persons who speak ill of us? People whose own conduct is the most ridiculous are always readiest to detract from that of others. They never fail readily to catch at the slightest appearance of an affair, to set the news about with joy, and to give things the very turn they would have them take. By colouring other people's actions like their own, they think to justify their conduct to the world, and fondly hope, by way of some resemblance, to give their own intrigues the air of innocence or to shift part of the blame elsewhere, which they find falls too hard upon themselves.
MME. PERNELLE. All these arguments are nothing to the purpose. Orante is known to lead an exemplary life, her care is all for Heaven; and I have heard say that she has but an indifferent opinion of the company that frequents your house.
DORINE. An admirable pattern indeed! She's a mighty good lady, and lives strictly, 'tis true, but 'tis age that has brought this ardent zeal upon her; and we know that she's a prude in her own defence. As long as 'twas in her power to make conquests, she did not balk any of her advantages; but when she found the lustre of her eyes abate, she would needs renounce the world that was on the point of leaving her; and under the specious mask of great prudence, conceals the decay of her worn-out charms. That is the antiquated coquettes' last shift. It is hard upon them to see themselves deserted by all their gallants. Thus forsaken, their gloomy disquiet can find no relief but in prudery; and then the severity of these good ladies censures all and forgives none. They cry out aloud upon every one's way of living, not out of a principle of charity, but envy, as not being able to suffer that another should taste those pleasures which people on the decline have no relish for.
MME. PERNELLE. [To ELMIRE] These are the idle stories that are told to please you, daughter. There's no getting in a word at your house, for madame here engrosses all the talk to herself. But I shall also be heard in my turn. I tell you my son never acted a wiser part than when he took this devout man into his family; that Heaven in time of need sent him hither to reclaim your wandering minds; that 'tis your main interest to hearken to his counsels, and that he reproves nothing that is not blameable. These visits, balls, and assemblies are all the inventions of the wicked spirit; there's not one word of godliness to be heard at any of them, but idle stuff, nonsense, and tales of a tub, and the neighbours often come in for a share; there's nobody they'll stop at to vilify. In short, the heads of reasonable people are turned by the confusion of such meetings. A thousand different fancies are started about less than nothing; and as a good doctor said the other day very well, 'Tis a perfect Tower of Babel, for every one here babbles out of all measure. Now to give you an account of where all this comes in.... [Pointing to CLÉANTE] What! is that spark giggling already? Go look for your fool to make a jest of, and unless—[To ELMIRE] Good-bye t'ye, daughter, I shall say no more. Depend on it, I have not half the esteem for your house I had, and it shall be very fine weather when I set my foot in your doors again. [Giving FLIPOTE a box on the ear] Come, you, you're dreaming and gaping at the crows; i'fakins! I'll warm your ears for you. Let's march, trollop, let's march.
CLÉANTE. I won't go, for fear she should fall foul on me again. That this good old lady—
DORINE. 'Tis pity, truly, she does not hear you call her so; she'd give you to understand how she liked you, and that she was not old enough to be called so yet.
CLÉANTE. What a heat has she been in with us about nothing! And how fond does she seem of her Tartuffe!
DORINE. Oh! truly, all this is nothing compared to the infatuation of her son, and were you to see him you'd say he was much worse. His behaviour in our public troubles had procured him the character of a man of sense, and of bravery for his prince; but he's grown quite besotted since he became fond of Tartuffe. He calls him brother, and loves him in his heart a hundred times better than either mother, son, daughter, or wife. He's the only confidant of all his secrets, and the wise director of all his actions; he caresses, he embraces him, and I think one could not have more affection for a mistress. He will have him seated at the upper end of the table, and is delighted to see him gobble as much as half a dozen. He must be helped to all the tit-bits, and whenever he but belches, he bids G—d bless him. In short, he dotes upon him, he's his all, his hero; he admires all he does, quotes him on all occasions, looks on every trifling action of his as a wonder, and every word an oracle. At the same time the fellow, knowing his blind side and willing to make the most on't, has a hundred tricks to impose upon his judgment and get his money from him in the way of bigotry. He now pretends truly to take the whole family to task; even the awkward fool his foot-boy takes upon him to lecture us with his fanatic face, and to demolish our patches, paint, and ribbons. The rascal, the other day, tore us a fine handkerchief that lay in the Pilgrim's Progress, and cried that it was a horrid profanation to mix hellish ornaments with sanctified things.
ELMIRE, MARIANE, DAMIS, CLÉANTE, DORINE.
ELMIRE. [To CLÉANTE] You are very happy in not having come to the harangue she gave us at the gate. But I saw my husband, and as he did not see me, I'll go up to wait his coming.
CLÉANTE. I'll wait for him here by way of a little amusement, only bid him good-morrow.
DAMIS. Hint something to him about my sister's wedding; I suspect that Tartuffe's against it, and that he puts my father upon these tedious evasions; you are not ignorant how nearly I am concerned in it. If my friend Valère and my sister are sincerely fond of one another, his sister, you know, is no less dear to me, and if it must—
DORINE. Here he is.
ORGON, CLÉANTE, DORINE.
ORGON. Hah! brother, good-morrow.
CLÉANTE. I was just going, and am glad to see you come back. The country at present is not very pleasant.
ORGON. Dorine. [To CLÉANTE] Brother, pray stay; you'll give me leave just to inquire the news of the family; I can't be easy else. [To DORINE] Have matters gone well the two days I have been away? What has happened here? How do they all do?
DORINE. My lady the day before yesterday had a fever all day, and was sadly out of order with a strange headache.
ORGON. And Tartuffe?
DORINE. Tartuffe? Extremely well, fat, fair, and fresh-coloured.
ORGON. Poor man!
DORINE. At night she had no stomach, and could not touch a bit of supper, the pain in her head continued so violent.
ORGON. And Tartuffe?
DORINE. He supped by himself before her, and very heartily ate a brace of partridge, and half a leg of mutton hashed.
ORGON. Poor man!
DORINE. She never closed her eyes, but burnt so that she could not get a wink of sleep; and we were forced to sit up with her all night.
ORGON. And Tartuffe?
DORINE. Being agreeably sleepy, he went from table to his chamber, and so into a warm bed, and slept comfortably till next morning.
ORGON. The poor man!
DORINE. At length my lady, prevailed upon by our persuasions, resolved to be let blood; then she soon grew easier.
ORGON. And Tartuffe?
DORINE. He plucked up his spirit, as he should; and fortifying his mind against all evils, to make amends for the blood my lady lost, drank at breakfast four swingeing draughts of wine.
ORGON. The poor man!
DORINE. At present they both are pretty well, and I shall go before and let my lady know how glad you are of her recovery.
CLÉANTE. She jokes upon you, brother, to your face; and without any design of making you angry, I must tell you freely that 'tis not without reason. Was ever such a whim heard of? Is it possible that a man can be so bewitching at this time of day as to make you forget everything for him? That after having, in your own house, relieved his indigence, you should be ready to—
ORGON. Hold there, brother, you don't know the man you speak of.
CLÉANTE. Well, I don't know him, since you will have it so. But then, in order to know what a man he is,—
ORGON. Brother, you would be charmed did you know him, and there would be no end of your raptures. He's a man—that—ah—a man—a man, in short, a man. Who always practises as he directs, enjoys a profound peace, and regards the whole world no more than so much dung. Ay, I am quite another man by his conversation. He teaches me to set my heart upon nothing; he disengages my mind from friendships or relations; and I could see my brother, children, mother, wife, all expire, and not regard it more than this.
CLÉANTE. Humane sentiments, brother, I must confess!
ORGON. Ah! had you but seen him as I first met with him, you would have loved him as well as I do. He came every day to church with a composed mien, and kneeled down just against me. He attracted the eyes of the whole congregation by the fervency with which he sent up his prayers to Heaven. He sighed and groaned very heavily, and every moment humbly kissed the earth. And when I was going out, he would advance before and offer me holy water at the door. Understanding by his boy (who copied him in everything) his low condition and who he was, I made him presents; but he always modestly would offer to return me part. 'Tis too much, he'd say, too much by half. I am not worth your pity. And when I refused to take it again, he would go and give it among the poor before my face. At length Heaven moved me to take him home, since which everything here seems to prosper. I see he reproves without distinction; and that even with regard to my wife, he is extremely cautious of my honour. He acquaints me who ogles her, and is six times more jealous of her than I am. But you can hardly imagine how very good he is. He calls every trifle in himself a sin; he's scandalised at the smallest thing imaginable, so far that the other day he told me he had caught a flea as he was at his devotions, and had killed it, he doubted, in rather too much anger.
CLÉANTE. 'Sdeath! you must be mad, brother, I fancy; or do you intend to banter me by such stuff? What is it you mean? All this fooling—
ORGON. Brother, what you say savours of libertinism. You are a little tainted with it; and, as I have told you more than once, you'll draw down some heavy judgment on your head one day or other.
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